Paper, medicine and everyday technologies in the early modern household

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By | Early Medicine, Events and Visits

The next seminar in the 2016–17 History of Pre-Modern Medicine seminar series takes place on Tuesday 22nd November.

Recipe from 1680 recipe book.

MS. 4338 (recipe book of Johanna Saint John, 1680), folio 18r.

Speaker: Dr Elaine Leong (Max Planck Institute, Berlin)

Paper, medicine and everyday technologies in the early modern household


In recent years, the early modern household has emerged as a central site for medicine and healthcare. Through analysis of personal letters, household account books, diaries and recipe books, we have uncovered the myriad of ways in which householders sought to understand their own bodies and the natural environment around them. Within these activities, paper played a central role. Householders utilised a range of paper technologies such as notebooks and paper slips to collate, categorise and manage the vast volumes of medical knowledge they stored in anticipation of possible sickness and ill health. Concurrently, they also used paper to apply plasters and ointments to the body, to tightly close vessels containing liquid medicines, to shape rolls of pills and to make containers for the mixing of different ‘materia medica’. This talk investigates the multiple ways in which early modern English men and women used paper technologies and technologies with paper to perform quotidian tasks and codify practical knowledge. This focus on the materiality of paper, I argue, offers both a fresh perspective to conceptualise the relationship between knowledge and practice and new ways to talk about medical technologies in pre-modern medicine.


Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.

Doors open at 6pm, seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th-century medicine).

Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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